The good ship stiffsea

April 25, 2007

Tuesday night I consumed some more of your tax pounds, nibbling canapes on a boat on the Thames, laughing politely at the Minister’s jokes, and networking like crazy. Yes folks it was the grand launch party of Britain’s newest Research Council, STFC. “Ess Tee wot ?” I hear you say… Thats the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, formed by a grand merger of PPARC and CCLRC. Amongst other things, henceforward this is the feeding trough at which UK astronomers and particle physicists will need to hustle, and as such I feel obliged to point out that they are splendid chaps every man jack of them. (Actually, for the ex-PPARC folk at least this is true … they are certainly more fun to drink to beer with than parti.. no hang on I’ll stop there.)

Wal Sargent apparently once said that the one guaranteed thing about UK astronomy is that once every few years the Government digs it up to have a look at the roots and see if its still healthy.

I was one of the youngest people there. This doesn’t happen often these days. I scanned the room for bloggers of course but the only one I could see was Paul Sutherland from Skymania News. (Paul – got there first !)

For some months the usual joke has been that STFC stands for Swindon Town Football Club, but by last night that had worn off a bit, except that somehow when Science Minister Malcolm Wicks said it, it was still very funny. The man is just an excellent orator. One thing for sure. Nobody knows how to say STFC. Consensus amongst my apparatchik chums is that Stiffsea will do.

If you go to the shiny new STFC web site, the launch party isn’t even a news item. But there is an item labelled “UK comment on discovery of first habitable Earth-like planet“. Thats a bit sad – me me me I was at that party too ! Actually, over at Astronomy Blog, Stuart explains that you may want to take this discovery with a wee grain of salt.

Last snippet. The party finished at 9pm and I went to a Westminster pub with David Saxon, Paul Sutherland, Jim Hough, and Ian Robson. We were supping our pints when suddenly there was this repeated clanging. It was the division bell calling soused MPs into vote .. coo. I didn’t know they really did that.

Anyhoo. The good ship stiffsea is launched. Good luck to all who sail in her.